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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Traditional scented gifts have a long history of use; perfumed gifts can be a good idea for birthdays, Christmas and other occasions such as  Valentine's and Mother's day.

Today, there are many scented gifts and perfumed products exchanged and received on birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions.  Scented gifts include perfume, soap, scented flower waters, herb pillows and pomanders.  Scented gifts have become more popular as more people are gifting homemade perfume and soap to family and friends.
Scented Herb Pillows

Scented herb pillows are said to derive from the practice in the Middle Ages of stuffing bed mattresses with scented herbs; rosemary was often stuffed under the pillow to induce sleep.  Dill seed was used to make dilly pillows which were used specifically to help lull babies to sleep.  The Roman Emperor, Nero, slept on a mattress stuffed with scented rose petals and other fragrant grasses; however, the French king, Charles VI, apparently preferred a mattress scented with lavender.

Scented Gloves as Gifts

Although not a common gift in today's world, a gift of scented gloves to a lady were, at one time, considered to be the height of fashion.  Both an Italian Princess of Neroli and Marie-Antoinette of France (1755-1793) scented their gloves.

In Elizabethan England, it was fashionable for ladies to scent their gloves too; Queen Elizabeth I of England (1558- 1603) began to scent her gloves with perfume after she received a gift of scented Italian gloves the Right Honorable Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford).

Scented Sweet Bags

Gloves were scented with small sachets of powdered aromatics called sweet bags; sweet bags were also used to scent scarves, linens, underwear, handkerchiefs and writing paper.  Indian shawls were protected against moths with the scent of patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) oil.  Any number of herbs, spices and flower petals were used to make sweet bags, but those with insect-repelling properties were traditional; these included lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and melissa (Melissa officinalis).

Scented Rosewater 

Rosewater was traditionally used in the East to cleanse the feet and hands of visitors after a long journey; rosewater was also used in Medieval Europe to cleanse the hands of guests at large banqueting feasts.  In European still rooms, it became common to blend rosewater and other herbs, such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), with Castile soap in order to make scented wash balls.

Scented Pomanders

It became the fashion for many Elizabethan ladies to carry not only bottles of scented perfumes but to wear scented perfume balls; these were called pomanders, a name which was derived from the French 'pomme d'amber'  meaning 'ball of ambergris'. Pomanders were originally silver perforated, scented balls which hung from the ceiling of a room.

Smaller versions of the large pomanders were filled with rose buds, amber, musk, benzoin and labdanum and boiled with gum tragacanth; pomanders even functioned as necklaces.  Queen Elizabeth I carried a pomander which included the ingredients of ambergris, benzoin and damask rose. 


Julia Lawless 2001 The Aromatherapy Garden London, UK: Kyle Cathie Ltd
Lis-Balchin, Maria 2005  Aromatherapy Science UK: Pharmaceutical Press

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as The History of Traditional Scented Gifts

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

CopyrightSharonFalsetto2010 All Rights Reserved

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